A £15 million extension has been proposed for Neath Port Talbot Hospital to help deal with a soaring backlog of orthopaedic operations.
Surgeons could be replacing hips and knees and repairing shoulders there in three years’ time, if all goes to plan.
The extension would also cater for spinal surgery.
Swansea Bay University Health Board chiefs could approve a strategic outline case for the project at a meeting on November 26. The Welsh Government would then consider funding it.
In October 2019 there were 4,256 people in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot waiting more than 36 weeks for treatment.
That figure was 30,776 in October 2020 – the rise fuelled by the prolonged lull in elective activity caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Some patients have been waiting more than three years for their operations, and the orthopaedic department received 357 complaints in 2019-2020.
One housebound patient on crutches said he had been waiting four years for a knee replacement.
In recent years operations have been postponed during the winter as seasonal pressures consume staff and resources.
The strategic outline report said waiting times for these patients was “unacceptable”.
It said: “This is detrimental for patients who are facing longer and longer delays for treatment and worsening of their condition. It damages the morale of staff.”
Elective (planned) orthopaedic activity was described as limited, and spinal theatre work severely limited.
Health chiefs will also consider setting up a demountable operating area to bridge the three-year completion phase of the extension, should it be approved.
The demountable operating area could even run alongside the new extension for a period to maximise capacity.
The region’s orthopaedic department is based at Swansea’s Morriston Hospital, but less complicated procedures take place at Neath Port Talbot Hospital and Singleton Hospital, Sketty.
The theatre and ward infrastructure within Morriston Hospital were described in the strategic outline report as “sub-optimal”.
Building the new extension at Neath Port Talbot Hospital would free up capacity for unscheduled care and trauma surgery at Morriston.
Four options have been considered to improve orthopaedic and spinal surgery, with one costing more than £60 million.
The health board will have to consider the day-to-day costs of the proposed extension, and recruit surgeons.
Mwoyo Makuto, chief officer at the health board’s community health council, which acts as a patient watchdog, said it was very supportive of the proposed extension.
“We absolutely welcome it,” she said.